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Social & Digital Media

Digital Tactics that Enhance Disaster Response

Oil spills. Train derailments. Chemical plant explosions. Plane crashes. Accidents test corporate mettle to the utmost. Companies must communicate calmly, coolly, and collectedly when conditions are anything but. They must provide credible information when concrete answers have yet to be found. They must convey empathy without seeming culpable. They must come across as responsible stewards of the public welfare even when preliminary public reactions suggest otherwise.

What’s worse, they must do so through a media filter that is often less than sympathetic. Or, at least they used to.

With the Digital Age has come the opportunity for companies to actually assume the role of the media in the wake of disaster. They themselves can be the fastest, most reliable sources of information. They can speak directly to stakeholders and affected populations. They can build an enviable audience.

“In a disaster or emergency situation, all eyes are on you,” says Tom Campbell, the leader of the Crisis Management multidisciplinary team at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. “The more companies can take advantage of having a truly captive audience, the more effective their communications will be.”

To assert such a measure of control, micro-sites (offshoots of a company’s primary website that are housed under the same parent URL) can be dedicated to providing vital information. Real-time Twitter updates can share developments as they happen. YouTube video of the recovery effort and messages of concern can be disseminated across all social and digital media channels. With all of these tools, companies can reach stakeholders without sensationalism or bias.

Of course, the company must have cultivated followers in the social media space long before the incident so that it is adding to an already burgeoning and supportive audience rather than assembling one from scratch.

Companies can temper instinctively intemperate media venues by making the jobs of reporters and editors as easy as possible, and with as much transparency as journalists expect. But, the less reliant companies are on the commercial media to disseminate their disaster response messages, the better.

This post is excerpted from Richard Levick’s recent Directorship feature, “Crossing the Great Divide – The Boardroom Guide for the Digital Director.” To learn more about how the Digital Age is impacting boardroom responsibilities at crucial times in the corporate life cycle, click here.

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